February 2012

The Diagnostic Balancing Act

Author: Dr. Rebecca Latham, DVM - Heritage Animal Hospital

Have you ever gone to the vet with a sick dog or cat and not understood the process of determining their illness? Diagnostic testing and communication with your veterinarian is designed to help with the process.

People want to do right by their pets when it comes to taking care of them, but at the same time, don’t want to be taken advantage of or may have financial constraints. It can be difficult for people to know what diagnostic tests are reasonable to perform in order to find out why their pet is sick. Because the veterinary community in general has varying styles and philosophies of practicing medicine, there are three things that can help with understanding diagnostics.

First, know your vet’s practice philosophies and how they approach the problems they have to address. Do they practice a very conservative approach and use general treatments that affect a more common set of problems? Do they run a lot of tests first then evaluate the information to determine a specific problem, leading them to tailor the treatment to the specific issue? For example: You take Lucky to the vet because he has had diarrhea for 12 hours but has, otherwise, been doing fine. Lucky would be a good candidate for conservative treatment. You would still want to know and understand the treatment plan and what is expected for the recovery. Is the conservative treatment working? If Lucky is not getting better, but was becoming worse, then this would be the time to use diagnostic options.

Different ailments call for different plans. In more severe ailments, the conservative approach may be inappropriate in that diagnostics are needed to assess the situation and provide treatment faster. A lot of diseases or problems do not fall into either extreme. Talk through what you are comfortable with from both an economic and a time standpoint. Become comfortable talking with your veterinarian about what you, as a client, are want and what is happening to your pet.

Second, ask questions! Don’t be afraid to ask why the veterinarian wants to do or not do a particular diagnostic. What information will they find and how does that information help with determining the problem or establishing a plan of action? A $250 test can give sticker shock. Understanding that the test is for a specific disease, only needs to be run one time, and allows for a specific treatment of a problem that left untreated could harm your pet, may affect your decision. If your veterinarian tends to be in the more diagnostic conservative camp, do not hesitate to ask what is available to you. This can help determine how aggressively or conservatively you want to approach a problem. If you are unaware that a diagnostic option is available to you, that is unacceptable, because it takes away your ability to make an educated decision.

Third, do not hesitate to ask for a referral to a specialist or to a facility that can offer different diagnostics and levels of care. The local veterinary community has access to a board certified surgeon that can perform diagnostics and procedures that a general practitioner may not feel comfortable performing. They have a more specific education to provide the best evaluation and treatment options. There are referral practices within one- to two-hours drive that can offer neurology and oncology specialists, just to name a few. Locally, the community has access to a veterinarian who focuses solely on the mouth and teeth and has the training to take and evaluate dental x-rays.

In conclusion, the diagnostic balance should be reached between you as the client and your veterinarian. Finding that balance will take understanding how your veterinarian approaches diagnostics. If they are conservative normally, there may be times when you want to let them know you would like to be more aggressive. If they tend to be more diagnostically aggressive, then being able to communicate a want for a more conservative approach is good. It is necessary to gain a relationship with your veterinarian that allows you to comfortably communicate and ask questions.

For more information, call Heritage Animal Hospital at 843.842.8331 or visit www.heritageanimalhospitalhhi.com.

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